TRUE. Over the years, I’ve had patients come to me with numbness and irritation of the genital area and even sexual dysfunction after extended time in the saddle. It makes sense. The place where the bike seat meets the rider is called the perineum. It’s the site of nerves, muscle, and blood supply that affect the genitals. Problems crop up mainly among serious athletes who are aggressive with their schedules. But even the casual cyclist may have trouble—for instance, when he goes on a weeklong bike trip, quadrupling his usual mileage and powering through the pain.
This isn’t a reason to be deterred from biking, however. It’s still one of the best cardiovascular exercises you can do, with minimum impact on your joints. And the good news is that soreness and numbness usually resolve on their own. Still, there are steps you can take to avoid sexual and urinary health issues.
Standing up from the saddle, at least once every hour of riding time, is most important—and if you position yourself forward on the bike rather than sitting upright, make sure to stand even more often. Wearing well-padded bike shorts helps. So does proper positioning of the handlebars and saddle. When you sit on the bike, your weight should be equally distributed across the seat. If you have any uncomfortable pressure points, it means that something’s off and you need to adjust in order to avoid repeated bruising or trauma. (A bike store can help ensure the right fit.)
Keep in mind that the symptoms don’t come on suddenly, and you can only really do damage after many miles of riding incorrectly. In other words: At the first sign of discomfort, go on the attack.
Have a question for Dr. Choi? Email him: [email protected]
BENJAMIN CHOI, M.D., is a practicing urologist in New York City, as well as a clinical assistant professor in urology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.